June 18, 2020

Freidheim Fellow Produces Results as Village’s Census Intern

PBA News

Rising senior Maria Landron’s passion for public relations landed her an internship that propelled her hometown to the highest census response rate in Palm Beach County.

Royal Palm Beach, a suburban community in western Palm Beach County, hired Landron to direct its 2020 Census campaign from start to finish. When she concluded in May, five months later, the village had a response rate approaching 70 percent. The figure put the village in the 93rd percentile in the state. Each day, the rate climbs a little more, Landron said.

Village Manager Ray Liggins said he attributes Landron’s success to her hard work.

“She reinvented ways to connect with residents even as COVID-19 became a game-changer,” Liggins said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled many family-friendly events Landron had been planning for months, she was undaunted. She pivoted to social media and outside partnerships to promote the census online.

“I’ve had such a good education from PBA that I felt prepared to do everything that I had to do,” Landron said. “We’re taught when we’re planning campaigns that the first task you have to do is research, including impediments. Of course, I didn’t think that a pandemic was going to be one of them.”

Getting an accurate headcount is critical to ensuring a municipality gets its fair share of state and federal funding. The census helps determine funding for libraries, community centers and Medicaid, as well as the number of seats a district gets in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Landron, a Freidheim Fellow, has a keen interest in political aspects of communication, she said. Naturally, then, the census opportunity piqued her interest when she discovered it in Handshake, the University’s career management system. She sought a recommendation for the job from the head of Palm Beach County’s communications department – a contact she knew through public relations professor Dr. Wes Jamison.

“It’s really important when you’re doing internships to know exactly what you want and leverage the relationships and connections that you have to help you,” said Landron.

Landron created a multi-pronged campaign. Her pre-COVID strategy included a “Build Your Future” Lego night at the library and an essay contest for second-grade students. While it may seem odd to target children, they are pervasively undercounted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Also considered hard to count are people who recently arrived in the United States, do not speak English fluently or are minorities. As she created her messaging, Landron kept in mind how she would have filled out the census when her family legally immigrated to South Florida from the Dominican Republic about a decade ago. Additionally, she produced printed materials in both English and Spanish.

If Landron saw low response rates for specific areas, she contacted the homeowners associations and community organizations in those areas. They sent out email blasts, and she saw a spike in responses, she said.

Working in Village Hall sharpened Landron’s interest in local government. She is completing a summer internship with The Moore Agency, which promotes West Palm Beach special events.

“This experience showed me how invested officials are in their communities,” Landron said. “It’s given me a whole new set of role models. Local government is where people can make the biggest impact.”

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